Like most teams at GW, the men’s squash team spent months practicing in preparation for the upcoming season. Yet, something was missing.
Last season, the team was ranked 22nd in the country. But last season also brought the graduation of its five best players, and then there was the unexpected departure of coach Simon Harrington a week before school began.
When the athletic department hired professional squash player Jude Odeh to take over the Colonials after a two-month search, the players were relieved to finally have some guidance.
“Everyone was extremely excited because of his great background being 16th in the world (as a player) only two years ago,” junior Alex Funk, a co-captain, said. “It has a nice ring to it.”
Odeh, who was the Nigerian national men’s squash champion and served as the Nigerian Senior Men’s Squash Captain from 2002 to 2004, came to the team’s rescue only a week before its first game of the season, which resulted in a 9-0 loss at No. 13 Franklin and Marshall. Since then, Odeh has implemented change, said junior Jarryd Commerford, the team’s other captain.
“It’s great to have an actual pro as a coach because you get the more individual technical advice that we couldn’t get from our old coach,” he said. “Last year was a lot more running drills while this year is more one-on-one and working on strokes. He’s also done a great job with getting us in shape.”
Growing up in a family that was consumed by squash, with both of his uncles being professional players, Odeh said it was inevitable that he, too, would join the tradition. The Nigerian native added that the position at GW was the perfect fit for him since he hoped to coach at a university in the United States or Nigeria.
“I was very glad to get the job here,” Odeh said. “(The players) worked very hard before I came, but they really needed someone to motivate them. They’re ready to learn, and I’m just excited to impart what I know and my experiences about squash.”
Commerford said that the players responded immediately to Odeh’s skills and knowledge of the sport, but sophomore Brad Birenbaum added that it has taken a while for the team to learn how to use his knowledge, which could explain the Colonials’ 9-0 loss at home to Navy Wednesday night. Birenbaum said that the loss is probably more likely due to the fact that Navy is one of the top teams in the country, rather than the adjustment to a new coach.
After Harrington left, the athletic department wanted to find the best coach possible rather than hire an unqualified applicant to fill the spot, which prolonged the coaching search, Commerford and Funk said.
Before Odeh arrived, Funk said that he and Commerford ran practices and tried to keep morale high despite the adverse circumstances.
“I was (worried that our young team) would find it hard to stay together,” he said.
But the Colonials did stay together, and now, under the direction of Odeh, Funk said that the squash team appears to be setting the building blocks of a successful program that will take the fourth-year varsity team to the next level.
“It’s attractive for high school players wanting to play in college to have a great coach at your school, and we already have three new recruits for next year,” he said.
Odeh began his coaching career at the Lagos Country Club in Nigeria from 1995 to 1999 before coming to the United States in 1994 where he worked at the Valkyrie Squash Club in New Jersey and the Sports and Health Club in nearby Bethesda, Md.
Odeh said that he expects the team to move higher than its current No. 31 ranking before the end of the year and that it is well on its way to doing so.
“My philosophy is making every squash player I come across better by teaching them what I know,” Odeh said. “It’s just a matter of time before these boys become very good.”